Taking Postpartum Mood Disorders SeriouslyOctober 9, 2013
By Jacob Molyneux, AJN senior editor
Last week, you probably heard that a 34-year-old mother was shot and killed by police after a car chase that ended with her trying to ram her car through White House barriers, her infant child still strapped in a car seat in the back.
Miriam Carey’s mother told reporters that her daughter was suffering from postpartum depression, though a number of commentators have pointed out that the extremity of her apparent delusions and the violence of her behavior suggest the more severe condition called postpartum psychosis (especially if it turns out that her condition was not chronic but instead began after she’d given birth).
Some estimates of the rate of major or minor depression in new mothers are as high as nearly 20%. AJN published a feature article (free until November 8) on this topic several years ago. The article describes postpartum depression and several related conditions (postpartum psychosis, panic attacks, PTSD, etc.) and discusses prevalence, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, interventions, and the potential long-term effects on children.
Postpartum depression can be powerful and hard to face, as it comes at a time that often combines social isolation with the expectation that one will be joyful, nurturing, hopeful, fulfilled. It’s not the same as “the blues,” which is thought to afflict over 50% of new mothers at some point, can last for up to 10 days, and usually requires no treatment. It’s also not the same as the more dangerous (and fairly rare) postpartum psychosis.
“The Long Haul,” a Reflections essay we published in 2008, describes a new mother’s experience of postpartum depression and PTSD after giving birth in her 25th week of pregnancy to a tiny premature infant who struggled to survive. They make it through, but it’s a tough ride for a while. Being given a clear diagnosis can help a mother feel better about not feeling so good, and help her get treatment as well.